Delta CEO Ed Bastian and Virgin founder Richard Branson held a "fireside chat" event moderated by Junior Achievement of Georgia president Jack Harris at the Georgia World Congress Center. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Delta CEO opposes idea of state takeover of Atlanta airport

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said he opposes a state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, as Georgia’s legislature plans a committee to study the idea.

“Atlanta is the largest, most successful airport in the world, and anything that would harm that in terms of trying to move it for political gain between the city and state, we’re opposed,” Bastian said after a talk with Virgin Group founder Richard Branson at a Junior Achievement of Georgia event Wednesday morning. “We think the operation with the city runs quite efficiently.”

The state has floated the idea of taking over Hartsfield-Jackson a number of times over the years. A resolution passed during this year’s legislative session has called for a committee to study the creation of an airport authority to run Hartsfield-Jackson.

The move comes as a federal bribery investigation has reached into airport contracts, and after controversies involving the tumultuous 2016 firing of then-Atlanta airport general manager Miguel Southwell and the more recent firing of a deputy general manager after revelations of a potential conflict of interest.

“No question that the issues around corruption and some of the political challenges of managing a large municipal commercial operation require further improvement,” Bastian said. “I’m not certain why the state is not going to have the same issues on that that the city has.”

The Atlanta airport’s recent challenges also include a debilitating blackout that disrupted travel for passengers from around the world one day last December. Hartsfield-Jackson is being run by interim general manager Balram Bheodari, after Roosevelt Council was shifted from his role heading the airport to become chief financial officer for the city.

“We have the crown jewel in air travel right here in Hartsfield-Jackson and I think the city should take great pride in what they’ve built and we’d be opposed to any change in the governance structure,” Bastian said.

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